Pelé, born in 1940, Brazilian soccer player who is considered one of the greatest soccer players of all time. Pelé led Brazil to international dominance in soccer and three World Cup titles from the late 1950s to the early 1970s. He later helped popularize the sport in the United States.
Pelé: Acclaimed Brazilian soccer player Pelé (in green shirt) began his professional soccer career in 1956 playing for Santos, a Brazilian club team. At age 17 he helped the Brazilian national team capture the 1958 World Cup, scoring two goals in the final against Sweden. With the help of Pelé’s goal scoring and leadership, Brazil captured two more World Cups, in 1962 and 1970. Pelé retired from professional soccer in 1974, but came out of retirement to play professional soccer in the United States until 1977. He is credited with popularizing soccer in the United States.
Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento in Tres Coraçoes, Brazil, Pelé grew up playing soccer (known as futebol in Brazil) in the streets of his hometown. Pelé’s father had been a professional player in the sport before injuries ended his career. Many Brazilian futebol players are known by a nickname—Pelé acquired his as a young boy, and later would say he did not know where it came from or what it means.
When Pelé was 15 years old and a promising player, his local coach tried to persuade the major soccer teams in Sao Paulo to sign him. They showed no interest, but the coach for the team in the coastal city of Santos signed Pelé for his junior team. Pelé was quickly promoted to the main team and became a star, showing an incredible instinct for the game along with a powerful shot, skillful ball control, and brilliant passing and field strategy.
Two years later, in 1958, Pelé made the prestigious Brazilian national team and appeared in his first World Cup. Not yet 18 years old, he became an international star when he scored six goals during the tournament, including three in one game against France and two in the final against host team Sweden. Pelé would go on to become the first player to appear on three World Cup title teams (1958, 1962, and 1970). His participation in the 1962 and 1966 tournaments was limited by injuries (often a result of vicious play), however, and Brazil lost its title to England in 1966. He remains among the all-time leading scorers in World Cup history with 12 goals.
Pelé was also a star on the club level. His Santos squad toured the world, winning the world club championship in 1962 and 1963. He led his league in scoring 11 times and in 1969 netted his 1,000th career goal. He retired from Santos in 1974 as one of the world’s most famous athletes.
Pelé stunned the sporting community in 1975 by coming out of retirement to play with the New York Cosmos of the growing North American Soccer League (NASL). His decision to play was motivated in part by the desire to increase the popularity of the game in America, the largest market in the world where soccer was not a leading sport. Pelé led the Cosmos to a league championship in 1977, then retired again. In the mid-1990s, with Brazil’s national soccer program beset by charges of corruption, Pelé accepted a position as the country’s sports minister. He continued to promote the game around the world. In 1999 the International Olympic Committee named Pelé the soccer player of the century.
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